In a long-awaited speech Friday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah broke his silence on the raging Gaza conflict, offering strong backing for Palestinian militants and harsh criticism of Israel and the United States.
Speaking before thousands of supporters in Beirut, Nasrallah said the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas was a “justified battle on religious and moral grounds,” framing it as part of the wider Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. He suggested the high Palestinian death toll marked a “great event” that had restored the Palestinian cause to “the number one issue in the world” after years of fading prominence.
Nasrallah lashed out at U.S. support for Israel, accusing President Biden of “hypocrisy” for defending Israel’s right to self-defense while urging protection of civilians. “Empty talk! Hypocrisy!” he thundered, vowing Hezbollah would stand with Palestinians against Israeli “aggression.”
The speech, Nasrallah’s first since Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, was closely watched across the Middle East for clues on Hezbollah’s role going forward. As Iran’s main proxy force in the region and a battle-hardened foe of Israel, Hezbollah has the firepower to dramatically escalate the conflict. But so far, it has calibrated actions to avoid triggering an all-out regional war.
Gaza Death Toll Nears 6,000 as Ceasefire Calls Mount
Nearly 6,000 Palestinians have been killed and 38,000 injured during 11 days of intensive Israeli airstrikes and shelling aimed at Hamas military sites in Gaza, according to health officials. Rights groups accuse Israel of using disproportionate force that has claimed many civilian lives.
With Gaza’s health system overwhelmed, the UN and aid agencies are pleading for an immediate ceasefire. President Biden stepped up diplomatic efforts Friday, speaking with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled operations will continue at “full force” until Israel’s goals are met.
Hamas Triggers Conflict with Surprise Rocket Onslaught
The fighting erupted Oct. 7 when Hamas unleashed a barrage of rockets towards Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, catching Israel off guard. The attack was described as retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque compound, a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
Hamas said the rocket campaign was also meant to protest Israeli policies in East Jerusalem like home evictions and settlement expansion. Militants fired over 4,000 rockets during the offensive, some reaching as far as Tel Aviv. Most were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system.
Hezbollah Threat Looms as Israel-Gaza Tensions Mount
Hezbollah fields a more formidable military force than Hamas, with an estimated 30,000 trained fighters, over 100,000 rockets and a stockpile of precision guided missiles capable of striking deep inside Israel.
While exchanging fire along the Israel-Lebanon border, Hezbollah and Israel have avoided escalation so far. But Hezbollah videos showing missile strikes on Israel’s communications infrastructure signal its capabilities. Analysts believe the group has undisclosed assets it could deploy for a wider conflict.
Axis of Resistance Poses Regional Threat
Hezbollah belongs to the “Axis of Resistance,” a network of Iranian-backed militias including groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Experts warn a decision by Hezbollah’s Nasrallah to launch an all-out war on Israel would encourage attacks by allied groups and set the region ablaze.
Israel Continues Punishing Airstrikes as Ground Forces Move In
Israel has kept up a relentless offensive in Gaza from air, land and sea aimed at obliterating Hamas’ military infrastructure and top commanders. Jets have bombed rocket launch sites, weapons depots, militant compounds and Hamas tunnels. Tanks and artillery have shelled targets as troops moved into northern Gaza Thursday in a significant escalation.
Israel says the strikes target only military sites, but Gaza’s crowded urban landscape means civilians often bear the brunt. Israel blames civilian deaths on Hamas operating from residential areas.
Gaza Blockade, Jerusalem Tensions at Heart of Conflict
At the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are disputes over territory, borders and sacred sites in Jerusalem and the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Hamas demands an end to the Gaza closure, which Israel says is needed to stop arms smuggling. Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured in clashes at the Al Aqsa mosque ahead of the fighting. The site is Islam’s third holiest in Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its indivisible capital. Control of the city remains one of the thorniest issues in resolving the decades-old conflict.
U.S. Stands with Israel, But Criticism Rising on Left
The Biden administration staunchly backed Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas rocket attacks, blocking UN Security Council action against Israel three times. At the same time, Biden faced growing pressure from left-leaning Democrats to denounce Israeli actions and boost support for Palestinians.
America’s shifting political landscape has exposed a rare rift among Congressional Democrats on Israel, pitting moderates against a vocal liberal bloc calling for more empathy for Palestinians. The divisions point to how the Gaza conflict is complicating the party’s traditional support for the Jewish state.
Arab Neighbors Urge Calm as Specter of Wider War Looms
Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia blamed Hamas for triggering the Gaza war through rocket attacks on Israel. The concern among Arab states is that Hezbollah could rally pro-Iranian militias in the region for operations against Israel, setting off a regional conflagration.
Middle Eastern and global leaders have urged calm amidst fears of the crisis spinning out of control. But with hostilities persisting and Palestinian casualties rising, the conflict has stirred public anger across Arab countries and Iran, adding pressure on leaders to take action against Israel.
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